Friday, May 6, 2011

On Bee-ing a Mom Part 4: Living in the Present

Gorgeous print available here, with half the proceeds from sales benefiting a camp for kids whose parents have cancer.  What a worthy cause to support at this time of year!
Three years ago, I was asked to speak at church on Mother's Day.  Though I've learned a lot since then and added another child to the mix, many of my thoughts and feelings recorded in this talk remain the same.  Several ideas shared here have strong references to my faith- if you need clarification don't hesitate to ask, or find more information here.  Thank you for indulging me this week as I've shared a few of my ramblings on such an important topic.  Happy Mother's Day!

My topic today is living in the present as a mother. I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to study and ponder this topic because it was already one I’d been thinking about and I’ve had a chance to reflect on it more in depth than the few moments I had recently. Living in the present as a mother is something that has been a challenge for me. I’m often so caught up in lists of things to accomplish and thinking about what comes next that it’s hard for me to focus on the joys that surround me and enjoy each stage as I’m participating in it. I feel like I’m definitely getting better at it the longer I’m a mother. With my first child, I was so eager for each milestone to come that I could barely enjoy it before I was waiting for the next one, wondering if she was on track, doing all in my power to help her development along to the next step. Addie was rolling, crawling, walking, and running in the blink of an eye because I couldn’t wait for each thing to happen and spent the moments in between wondering when her next milestone would be accomplished. It’s been a very different experience having a second child. Because I knew what was coming I could enjoy each phase without rushing Sam along to the next one. I rocked him and didn’t mind as much, knowing he’d be squirming before long. He rolled around the room to get from place to place, and I was in no hurry for him to crawl. In the past two weeks he’s finally started walking as his main mode of transportation, but I really enjoyed the crawling, maybe in part because I know now that walking just means he can get into more trouble faster. Although I haven’t had children for years and years, I’m grateful that in the short time I have, the learning curve has been pretty short and I’m already starting to catch on to the fact that I need to enjoy each stage of raising children while I have it instead of trying to hurry up and wait for the next stage to begin.
President Monson speaks of living in the present in his first presidency address in the April Ensign by saying “Sometimes we let our thoughts of tomorrow take up too much of today. Daydreaming of the past and longing for the future may provide comfort but will not take the place of living in the present. This is the day of our opportunity, and we must grasp it.” Although this can apply to many areas of our life, I think one of the greatest applications of living in the present and grasping our opportunities is found in motherhood. Today is the day of my opportunity as a mother, and I must grasp it! Sister Hinckley had great counsel that she addressed to mothers of young children. She said, “These are golden years for you. These are years you will probably do the most important work of your lives. Don’t wish away your years of caring for small children. Life is what happens to you while you are making other plans. This is a time of great opportunity for you to build the kingdom. When you teach children to love their Heavenly Father, you have done one of the greatest things you will ever do.” There are three points I’d like to focus on in helping us to live in the present as parents, and more specifically mothers. They are to understand our role as mothers, to understand the constraints of time, and to gain perspective so we may fill our time with the joys of family life and the gospel.
The first point is to understand our role as a mother. I believe that as we come to understand the significance of this responsibility, we are better able to live in the present as we strive to make the greatest impact we can knowing how vital our performance in this role is. David O. McKay said, “Motherhood is the greatest potential influence for either good or ill in human life. The mother's image is the first that stamps itself on the unwritten page of the young child's mind. It is her caress that awakens a sense of security; her kiss, the first realization of affection; her sympathy and tenderness, the first assurance that there is love in the world.” What beautiful words penned by President McKay, and what a responsibility to know that motherhood is the greatest potential influence for good or ill in human life! Before we get too far, I’d like to point out, in the words of Sister Holland, that “[motherhood] is first and foremost a statement about our nature, not a head count of our children.” Regardless of the circumstances we may be in as a woman, we are all mothers. Sherri Dew clarifies more on the role of mother given to all women. “When we understand the magnitude of motherhood, it becomes clear why prophets have been so protective of woman’s most sacred role. While we tend to equate motherhood solely with maternity, in the Lord’s language, the word mother has layers of meaning. Of all the words they could have chosen to define her role and her essence, both God the Father and Adam called Eve “the mother of all living”—and they did so before she ever bore a child. Like Eve, our motherhood began before we were born. Just as worthy men were foreordained to hold the priesthood in mortality, righteous women were endowed premortally with the privilege of motherhood. Motherhood is more than bearing children, though it is certainly that. It is the essence of who we are as women. It defines our very identity, our divine stature and nature, and the unique traits our Father gave us." President Gordon B. Hinckley stated that “God planted within women something divine.” That something is the gift and the gifts of motherhood. Elder Matthew Cowley taught that “men have to have something given to them [in mortality] to make them saviors of men, but not mothers, not women. [They] are born with an inherent right, an inherent authority, to be the saviors of human souls … and the regenerating force in the lives of God’s children.” Knowing what we know about motherhood being an inherent and eternal part of our nature, doesn’t it make you want to rise to the call? As I read these statements, I feel blessed that I’ve been chosen to fill this role, but also a great responsibility to do something with the blessings I’ve been given. Kind of like the parable of the talents, I don’t want to bury these skills that are part of my nature, but I feel the pull to use these talents to the best of my ability. Sister Beck shared an experience in conference a few years ago that I can very much relate to. “I was recently at a park where I met a group of women with mother hearts. They were young, covenant-keeping women. They were bright and had obtained advanced degrees from respected universities. Now they were devoting their considerable gifts to planning dinner that evening and sharing housekeeping ideas. They were teaching two-year-olds to be kind to one another. They were soothing babies, kissing bruised knees, and wiping tears. I asked one of those mothers how it came about that she could transfer her talents so cheerfully into the role of motherhood. She replied, “I know who I am, and I know what I am supposed to do. The rest just follows.” That young mother will build faith and character in the next generation one family prayer at a time, one scripture study session, one book read aloud, one song, one family meal after another. She is involved in a great work. She knows that “children are an heritage of the Lord” and “happy is the [woman] that hath [a] quiver full of them” (Ps. 127:3, 5). She knows that the influence of righteous, conscientious, persistent, daily mothering is far more lasting, far more powerful, far more influential than any earthly position or institution invented by man. She has the vision that, if worthy, she has the potential to be blessed as Rebekah of old to be “the mother of thousands of millions” (Gen. 24:60).” I love the words of the young sister- “I know who I am and I know what I am supposed to do. The rest just follows.” I believe that as we come to learn more about our roles as mother, when we understand the significance and impact that we can have, the rest will indeed follow.
The second point is to understand how fleeting time is. I loved the words of Elder Ballard, along with every other young mother, in this past General Conference. I quote from him, “There is no one perfect way to be a good mother. Each situation is unique. Each mother has different challenges, different skills and abilities, and certainly different children. The choice is different and unique for each mother and each family. Many are able to be “full-time moms,” at least during the most formative years of their children’s lives, and many others would like to be. Some may have to work part- or full-time; some may work at home; some may divide their lives into periods of home and family and work. What matters is that a mother loves her children deeply and, in keeping with the devotion she has for God and her husband, prioritizes them above all else. I am impressed by countless mothers who have learned how important it is to focus on the things that can only be done in a particular season of life. If a child lives with parents for 18 or 19 years, that span is only one-fourth of a parent’s life. And the most formative time of all, the early years in a child’s life, represents less than one-tenth of a parent’s normal life. It is crucial to focus on our children for the short time we have them with us and to seek, with the help of the Lord, to teach them all we can before they leave our homes.” I have thought frequently of these statistics since this talk was given. Although my days can seem so long and overwhelming, it saddens me to realize that this time I’m in is most likely less than one-tenth of my life! It definitely puts things in perspective. In the past year I’ve also realized how fast time goes when my niece started kindergarten. I was at the hospital shortly after she was born, and she was only 5 months old when Patrick and I were married. As clich√© as it sounds, it seems like yesterday that she was toddling around, and now she’s about to finish her first year of school. Although I know I didn’t feel the same depth of emotion as her parents as she started school, I was still saddened to realize that the safe haven of home, the period of life when her family would have the greatest and most intense influence, had come to a close. She has a great foundation on which to build, but other influences are now factored in to her choices as looks to others like friends and teachers for input and approval. I’m grateful I’ve had such a great friend to look to in my sister-in-law as we raise our children. To realize I’m more than half way there until I reach this milestone with my own child makes me wish I could stop time. I’m coming to understand the adage that the days are long but the years are short. President Monson shared a story by Arthur Gordon also illustrating this principle. “When I was around thirteen and my brother ten, Father had promised to take us to the circus. But at lunchtime there was a phone call; some urgent business required his attention downtown. We braced ourselves for disappointment. Then we heard him say [into the phone], ‘No, I won’t be down. It’ll have to wait.’
“When he came back to the table, Mother smiled. ‘The circus keeps coming back, you know.’
“‘I know,’ said Father. ‘But childhood doesn’t.’” Childhood doesn’t come back. To repeat President Monson’s words, “this is the day of our opportunity, and we must grasp it.”
Now that we understand our role as mothers and the passing of time, how do we live in the present? How do we make the most of the time we have? I know that our greatest happiness and satisfaction will be found in the simple joys found in family life and in living the gospel together. I really appreciated these words from Elder Ballard, also from the recent conference. “Recognize that the joy of motherhood comes in moments. There will be hard times and frustrating times. But amid the challenges, there are shining moments of joy and satisfaction. Author Anna Quindlen reminds us not to rush past the fleeting moments. She said: “The biggest mistake I made [as a parent] is the one that most of us make. . . . I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of [my three children] sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages six, four, and one. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less”(Loud and Clear [2004], 10–11).” It sounds so simple to live in the moment, but it truly is one of the most difficult things I’m learning to do as a mother. The list of tasks is endless, and it’s hard for me to set the list aside, but I know that some of my happiest moments as a mother have been when I’ve tossed out the list and enjoyed the doing and the being with my children. The past two weeks have been particularly busy, and thanks to a husband who helps me keep things in perspective, we took dinner to the park one night this week to enjoy a picnic as a family. As we shared our plans with Addie, she couldn’t contain her excitement as she repeatedly said “This is such a wonderful day!” I remember a couple of years ago being pregnant with Sam and returning home after running errands with Addie to find a warm spring shower. Instead of hurrying to get our shopping bags and ourselves inside, I decided it would be a great time for Addie to enjoy her first dance in the rain. She talked about it for months and still mentions it on occasion. As we heed the Savior’s commands to become as a child, it’s amazing what will happen as we take the world in through their eyes. It not only helps us to live in the present as we see the beauty and wonder in the world around us, but it makes the present so much more enjoyable to live in! President Monson related a story that can teach us another way to live in the present. “I remember reading the account of a man who, just after the passing of his wife, opened her dresser drawer and found there an item of clothing she had purchased when they visited the eastern part of the United States nine years earlier. She had not worn it but was saving it for a special occasion. Now, of course, that occasion would never come.
In relating the experience to a friend, the husband of the deceased wife said, “Don’t save something only for a special occasion. Every day in your life is a special occasion.”
That friend later said those words changed her life. They helped her cease putting off the things most important to her. Said she: “Now I spend more time with my family. I use crystal glasses every day. I’ll wear new clothes to go to the supermarket if I feel like it. The words ‘someday’ and ‘one day’ are fading from my vocabulary. Now I take the time to call my relatives and closest friends. I’ve called old friends to make peace over past quarrels. I tell my family members how much I love them. I try not to delay or postpone anything that could bring laughter and joy into our lives. And each morning, I say to myself that this could be a special day. Each day, each hour, each minute is special.”
Sister Hinckley outlined some of the responsibilities we have as mothers along with a healthy dose of perspective. “These are busy, busy days for you… It is my opinion that… Mormon women are among the hardest working women in the world. They plant gardens and bottle the produce, they sew and bargain shop. They go on the heart fund drive. They take dinners to new mothers and the sick in their neighborhoods. They take care of aged parents. They climb Mt. Timpanogos with Cub Scouts, go to Little League games, sit on the piano bench while Jennie practices, do temple work, and worry about getting their journals up-to-date. My heart bursts with pride when I see them come into church on Sunday, some as early as 8:30 in the morning, their children all clean and shiny, their arms loaded with supplies, as they head for classes where they teach other women’s children. They scrub their houses with little or no domestic help and then try to be the glamour girl in their husband’s life when he arrives home at night. But remember, my dear young friends, that you are now doing the work that God intended you to do. Be grateful for the opportunity.” I know that I am doing what God has intended me to do, and I am eternally grateful for the opportunity.
I’ve thought a lot about the words of Queen Esther as I’ve prepared this talk. I feel like there are a few things I’ve accomplished so far in my life that I’m pretty proud of. I hope that after a lifetime of living, there will be many more things I may add to the list of things I’ve worked hard at and been successful at. But regardless of education, hours of service, callings held, instruments played, I know that the years I’m in right now are some of the most important, if not THE most important of my entire life. Regardless of anything else, I wonder as Mordecai wondered of Esther, “Who knowest whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Mother is the most important and sacred title I will ever hold, and in President Monson’s words, this is the day of my opportunity- I must grasp it! I pray that we might all live in the present in whatever our current circumstances may be, embracing the season we’re in and knowing that to everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven. I’m grateful for the season I’m in right now and for the sweet children I’ve been blessed with. I have a testimony of the sacred role of mothers and of motherhood as the divine nature of all women, whether or not they currently have children. As I attended two sealings this weekend I was again reminded of motherhood as an eternal role, and I know that motherhood is part of our identity. I am grateful for the gospel of Jesus Christ and for a knowledge of the plan, knowing that if I live worthy I can enjoy the blessings of motherhood eternally.

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